February 5, 2011
Leafs lose again in Buffalo
By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency
BUFFALO -- The Maple Leafs made it to the HSBC Arena on time Saturday night, despite a raging blizzard outside, but they left their intensity and hockey smarts somewhere along the QEW.
Which is nothing new when the Leafs travel to the Niagara Frontier.
Coach Ron Wilson reminded his team before the game that the Sabres always come out strong and aggressive off the opening faceoff and try to snatch an early lead, before going into their 1-3-1 defensive shell.
But his words seemed to fall on deaf ears, again. The Leafs appeared shell-shocked early and often, falling behind 2-0 after one period and 5-1 after two, giving up 30 shots in the opening two frames.
In the end, they fell 6-2, ending a modest two-game win streak, and Wilson's mood afterwards reflected the weather outside.
"We don't play, it seems, with the same intensity against Buffalo as we match up when our (other) divisional rivals," said the coach. "Montreal, Ottawa and Boston, we have great games and when we play the Sabres we don't seem to view them as an Honest-to-God rival, and I don't know why. They're only 90 miles away and we end up with a lot of fans at the game and they just seem to have our number."
Toronto has now lost seven in a row in Buffalo, their last win coming on Dec. 12, 2008, and have been out-scored 30-12 during that stretch.
Drew Stafford scored a pair for the Sabres, and picked up an assist, with Jason Pominville, Paul Gaustad, Tim Connolly and Thomas Vanek getting the others. Nikolai Kulemin, with a short-handed effort in the second, and Francois Beauchemin replied for the Leafs.
The loss put a damper on what has been almost a fairy-tale run for rookie goaltender James Reimer, who was pulled after two periods for Jean-Sebastien Giguere after giving up five goals, though only one, a five-hole effort by Gaustad, was considered a really bad goal. Reimer was coming off his first career NHL shutout with a 3-0 win over Carolina on Thursday.
"I didn't pull my weight today," Reimer said. "(When) they got their third goal (by Gaustad) that kind of took the wind out of our sails, and those are the saves I love to make. That's what I get paid to do and that's what I love to do."
Reimer certainly was harder on himself than his coach or teammates were.
"Every shot's stoppable," he said. "That's the way you've got to look at it. That's the mentality I took in junior and that's how my goalie coach said to approach a game. If you start thinking some shots aren't stoppable, you might get yourself in trouble."
The woes continued for the Leafs', uh, sniper, Phil Kessel. Kessel is now riding a 10-game scoring drought. He had his chances against the Sabres, including a second-period breakaway against Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller, but he seems to be squeezing his stick much too hard. And he's not exactly making up for his lack of scoring production by playing hard in his own end. Kessel is lackadaisical on defence too often, and that was exactly the case on Buffalo's fifth goal. Kessel was knocked to the ice in the neutral zone and was slow to get up. When he did finally rise, his effort to get back in Toronto's zone wasn't exactly awe-inspiring, as Stafford took advantage of the odd-man rush, cutting into the high slot unmolested in the second, and then beat Reimer to the blocker side.
Kessel finished the game a minus-2 and leads the Leafs in that stat at minus-22.
The truly bizarre part of Toronto's troubles in Buffalo is the fact that they get really good fan support at the HSBC Arena.
"We should be using that," said Clarke MacArthur about the fan support. "But we're not."